How can we improve the quality of higher education? | Debra Mashek

The mission of Heterodox Academy is to improve
the quality of scholarship and education in higher ed by increasing open inquiry, viewpoint
diversity and constructive disagreement across lines of difference. We activate on this mission in four ways. The first thing we do is try to increase public
awareness about why these issues matter to education, to professors, to students. We also try to create tools and resources
that professors, administrators and others can deploy within their local context to increase
open inquiry and constructive disagreement. We look for model institutions, model individuals
and model groups and try to hold them up to show others how to do this difficult work,
and then we also create communities of practice by bringing together, for instance, disciplinary
scholars. So rigging together a bunch of psychologists
and helping them think through what open inquiry looks like in their discipline, in their journals,
in their conferences and so on. So the definition of viewpoint diversity is
when you have – it’s merely descriptive. It describes a community, a campus or a classroom
where you have people approaching questions from a range of different perspectives. Those perspectives can be disciplinary perspectives,
theoretical perspectives, experiential, demographic and also ideological. And the thinking is that when you have a lot
of people asking questions and interrogating claims from a lot of different perspectives
you’re actually able to see the nuance in whatever that thing of inquiry happens to
be whether it’s about the aesthetic world or the cultural world or the social world
or the political world. That when we think together we’re able to
see more of that texture. So viewpoint diversity is something that we
advocate for and within the Academy we’re trying to open up the range of viewpoints
that are allowed in, that are welcomed, that can reasonably be interrogated on campus. A current issue right now is that of immigration
and so a lot of people on campus feel like oh, immigration, the borders should be totally
open. And there are absolutely scholars and students
who want to interrogate that claim a little bit who might say under what conditions does
it make sense to have a closed border or how might we implement a semipermeable border. And on some campuses even asking those questions
will draw accusations that you must be a racist or a xenophobe. And so when those words get dropped into conversation
rather than keeping the conversation going what they do is they shut it down and in those
cases what people learn very quickly is that there are a right set, there is a right set
of questions you are allowed to ask. There is a right set of conclusions you’re
allowed to come to. And if you are not sure what you think or
if you think something differently it’s best to often, or people are learning that
it’s best to sit on the sidelines and to not ask those questions and to not stake those
claims. Academic freedom is a really big crucial value
concept in higher ed and academic freedom is the idea that professors should be able
to research whatever questions they would like to and that they are free of being fired
by their institution. They’re free of backlash because of the
kinds of questions, the kind of scholarship that they engage in. When you think about internationally there
are, scholars are often at incredible risk. They receive death threats for their research. They find situations where, or sometimes professors
are in situations where they actually need to flee their home countries with their families
because of the intellectual work they’re doing. Thank goodness academic freedom is a revered
value in the American higher education system. It is part and parcel of open inquiry. So this notion of well what is open inquiry,
what does it mean to create spaces where open inquiry can happen. It means ensuring that people from a range
of perspectives can ask questions, that they can follow the data wherever those data may
lead. That when they come to conclusions that scholars
can come together and think together and interrogate those conclusions without feeling like they’re
going to be exposed to social censure or that they’re going to receive threats or lose
their jobs. So it’s really about ensuring that people
are free academically to pursue questions and that’s true of all scholars and that
they’re free from social censure.


  1. This only works in good faith discussions. You aren't acting in good faith here. We don't accept flat earth discussions in geological circles because this is a settled claim and serves as a waste of time that slows progress in the field. Similarly, the topic you discuss here has been selected to distract from real economic issues like wealth distribution. the Koch foundation paid for this to do just that.

  2. What we have now is hardly an education in anything but memory retention. In fact since the advent of the internet that method of learning handicaps your ability to learn as much as possible. I mean one person, deciding material and direction for you, telling you what they think you should know based off some guideline created 50 years ago? Why not all knowledge on a subject available at once and thousands of professionals willing to help you on whatever you are interested in?

  3. The problem with higher education is the price tag is far too low. Why graduate with $100,000 in debt when it could be a cool mil? Wasted opportunity.

  4. Our education fails because it's designed to produce factory workers: citizens that have an adequate, generalized knowledge about the world, but are then sent to trade school to learn manufacturing and engineering. Our educational system is not designed for high tech industry or higher sciences, just yet. We did very well during the 18th~20th centuries, but now we're falling behind because our educational system is not meant for the modern world.

    Let me just state that certain cultural influences in this country also distract form higher education, in various forms, due to stigmas and taboos.

    I'm almost certain the average student can learn more in a week on the internet than a full year in school. You don't need six months of a class when you can watch about ten videos on YouTube and get the same information in a more interesting and enjoyable experience. I learned more about history while watching 'The History of the World, I Guess' than I did in three years of middle school and four years of high school, and some of it actually made me do some googles searches to read more about things I thought were interesting.

    I'm with Neil Degrasse Tyson on this: we need to not cram random factoids into children's heads and then push them out the door twelve years later, calling them educated. We need to teach children more about how to think than what to think. Critical thinking is sorely lacking in today's society.

  5. Been a while since college for me. Is it really as widespread as Jordan Peterson and Bret Weinstein tell us?

    There's a new documentary that I want to watch called "no safe spaces" but I wonder if I'm only getting one side of the story here.

    Has intersectionality, social justice and antifa mentality really run rampant on most of our campuses?

  6. When higher education becomes accessible by everyone regardless of financial background. Until then, "improving" higher educations actually means how can we justify the outrageous price we charge for knowledge or how can we increase the price of education.

  7. Academic Freedom is NOT a value revered in the American educational system. Case in point, I would bet that it is easier to find a Black lesbian imigrant woman in higher education than it would be to find an openly conservative or Republican educator. Now obviously I am being hyperbolic but the fact that you thought about it for even a second should speak volumes.

    Q: How can we increase equality in higher education?
    A: False premise.

  8. cool ….. oh Anything can be discussed … Analytically / symbolically ….two dimensional numbskulls cannot understand such subtle discourse.

  9. I’ve been a college student for 3 years, yet I’ve never met anyone who supports open borders, what the fuck are you talking about? Oh let me guess, now i’m infringing on your freedom of speech by disagreeing with you?

  10. She's right, and Heterodox academy is important as a first step in attempting to turn around the shitshow education has become. But she is far far too timid, too reticent to tell it like it really is. Though I kind of understand why they did for something as flat, unchallenging and orthodox as Big Think.
    I still think they should have gotten someone like Gad Saad, or Peter Bhogosian, Helen Pluckrose, and James Lyndsey, who were responsible for shining a bloody big light on the way academia has gone to the dogs, literally. With their Sokal Squared study/hoax. Though I don't really like to call it a hoax as it gives the wrong impression entirely. That did more to clearly show what our education system has become than anything I can think of.
    Outside the STEM fields at least. It has largely become a massive self serving business and ideologically driven disgrace that does little in the way of actually educating folk.
    It is now doing little more than fleece people and leave them deeply in debt.

  11. The only quality of higher education in a world where children are born with internet access is found in the networking potential. Ivy League schools don't have a monopoly on quality information, they have a monopoly on influence and access to capital. Being able to network directly with the children of affluence is a greater benefit than all the education any human could possibly consume in 20 lifetimes. It's like buying a lottery ticket but you get to know 4 of the 5 numbers ahead of time.

    The issue isn't the education. The issue is the devaluation of human effort in response to rapid technological development. The internet can share the breadth of human knowledge with anyone, anywhere. The problem is an hour of well educated human life isn't valued high enough to support a 1 bedroom apartment. Let alone a family. We need to work on empowering all people who work full time with the ability to not only survive, but thrive. That means minimum wage should be enough to start a family.

  12. When the government spends money on education they spend it on the facilities and supplies etc. of the schools and spend no money on helping the people in their country get a good education. We can improve the quality of higher education by caring more about how good, financially and substantially, the actual education is and less on the stuff that doesn't matter. The people should come before anything else.

  13. For the most part, I see people saying what wasn't being proposed which is making higher Ed free (which I totally agree and I'm sure is on its way). Another group is saying that we need to be free from political ideologies, and I'd have to say unfortunately, that may not go away because as long as people follow money, they will do whatever it takes to keep that money coming.

  14. When academic freedom isn't within bounds, this is what it will look like: "God creates dinosaurs, God destroys dinosaurs. God creates Man, man destroys God. Man creates dinosaurs" (if you know the movie, just like.. or don't like, just don't comment..
    I like games 😊)

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